HELST, Bartholomeus van der
(b. 1613, Haarlem, d. 1670, Amsterdam)
Abraham del Court and Maria de Keersegieter1654
Oil on canvas
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam
Van der Helst's life-size Abraham del Court and Maria de Keersegieter of 1654 shows him at the top of his form as a portraitist of private patrons. The drawing of the elegant married couple seated in a garden is faultless and the rendering of their costly garments, the very last word in haut couture among the elite circles, is rendered with technical perfection. Nothing is known about del Court as a connoisseur of painting but he certainly was an expert on textiles. He was a cloth merchant and served a term as an official of Amsterdam's textile guild. He must have taken as much delight as his wife did in van der Helst's depiction of Maria's silvery-white satin gown enhanced by the play of light on the silver braid along its front and lower edge. The thorny rose Maria holds probably alludes to the pains and pleasures of love, the fountain in the garden to fecundity, and del Court's gentle support of his wife's wrist to the concord of their joined status.
Van der Helst received more commissions than he could handle and not all of them attain the high quality of the del Court double portrait. Marked variations in execution of signed paintings done in the same year signal that he employed assistants to help him meet the demand. One is documented: in I652 Marcus Waltersz (or Waltusz) agreed to paint and serve him for twelve months for three guilders, three stuivers per week. His contract stipulated he was to work for ten hours a day during the summer months and from dawn until dusk during the winter. For his part van der Helst agreed to teach him as much as possible, and further, on days when Marcus was scheduled to act at the theatre his master was to give him the afternoon free without docking his weekly wage. Nothing more is known about Marcus's activity as an aspiring painter or actor.